The importance of moderating blog comments

blogcommentsAt the back end of last year I wrote about some research revealing the importance of a blog receiving comments in order to maintain the motivation of the blogger.  The research found that the number of comments we receive was a good indication of the level of connection we have with our community.

Not all comments are created equally though are they?  I mean most blogs attract a fair amount of spam, and whilst mods such as akismet are fantastic at keeping most of it out, some do drift through.  More damaging though are the kind of comments submitted by real people that are simply a pain in the backside.  The kind submitted by trolls in other words.

Some new research has looked at the impact of comments on the reporting of scientific news, so serious stuff.  The study got around 2,500 people to read various blog posts.  The text of the articles were the same, but the comments on them varied, with some amazing results.

For instance, on an article about nanotechnology, when there was name calling in the comments, it polarised perceptions of risk, depending upon the readers predisposition towards the nanotechnology.

“It seems we don’t really have a clear social norm about what is expected online,” says Brossard, a UW-Madison professor of Life Science Communication, contrasting online forums with public meetings where prescribed decorum helps keep discussion civil. “In the case of blog postings, it’s the Wild West.”

For potentially controversial issues that are still relatively unknown in the public eyes, this matters.  Alot.

“When people encounter an unfamiliar issue like nanotechnology, they often rely on an existing value such as religiosity or deference to science to form a judgment,” explains Ashley Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University and the lead author of the upcoming study in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.

If the reader is religious for instance, the rude comments were found to heighten the readers negative feelings towards the topic.  With the web an increasingly influential method for information discovery, this research should be a clear warning to publishers that they should not let the comments section of their blogs descend into the wild west.


8 thoughts on “The importance of moderating blog comments

  1. Indeed, moderation is of utmost importance in ensuring comments remain civlized. It becomes difficult when topics are religious, like in your nanotechnologies examples, but also political, racial or sexual in nature. A great example was, and you may recall, when the controversy was sparked last year about how social media ought to be handled by folks less than 25 years old. The poor girl who wrote that article got flooded by lots of comments, many of which were borderline troll or at least outright aggressive. Same thing happens on political sites.

    Moderation ensures a certain level of decency, but we are dealing with humans, after all. And human nature being what it is, well…


    • Hi Frederic. Yes, I remember that story well. With professional topics you would imagine people would see, and then discount/discard the comments of obvious trolls, so it's interesting to find out that they still make an impact.

  2. Very interesting. Whenever I read comments on places like the BBC it always just depresses me at how stupid so many people seem to be.

    • Not just the BBC Nick. I read the Telegraph now and then, and even for a supposedly educated broadsheet paper, the comments are often really quite bad.

      The best mainstream news sites I've found are the Economist and the Guardian. Both seem to have a good standard of commenting that often add as much as the original article.

  3. Interesting, and I can totally see how comments would affect perceptions of content, especially if it's something relatively unfamiliar. I think the key point is the lack of expectations about proper online behavior. There's a difference between expressing an opinion and being rude and obnoxious. I think blogs that get that level of commenting really need a commenting policy and a good moderator. Anyone who expresses an opinion in an insulting way should be removed. The expected behaviors should be published on the blog. I know it sounds like slippery territory, for instance, what would stop someone from removing any negative or dissenting comments? But ultimately the blog owner gets to make the rules. And you can't really have a productive conversation when things deteriorate into name calling and insults.

  4. I used to run a political blog, and I had open comments for a time, but I acquired a couple of trolls who refused to engage in a serious way and whose sole purpose was to antagonize. They were common trollers on other sites on my side of the political debate. I enabled moderation on account of them and eventually dropped comments alltogether.

    It wasn't that I was trolling myself, I strove to discuss in good faith and had some opponents give me credit for that. On my current site which is about skiing I get some comments but other than the spam I may have had only one comment I had to edit and that was a comment that I could not really tell if it was legit or spam, so I edited the comment to remove the links and such that made me feel it was spam.

    • Yes I'd imagine a political blog is a prime target for trolling as people so often have entrenched views that they won't shift from. Did your blog benefit once you turned comments off?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *